Briefing: Synod appeals for arms traffickers to rediscover humanity

Briefing: Synod appeals for arms traffickers to rediscover humanity

During the daily Synod briefing on Friday, themes discussed included the role of bishops, authority lived as service, and the co-responsibility of the laity in the Church.

By L’Osservatore Romano

Authority – which in the Church is a “service” that is “exercised barefoot” – and the issue of abuse were among the topics addressed in the interventions of the ongoing Synod on Synodality’s Thirteenth and Fourteenth General Congregation, held on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning in the Vatican. The two Congregations, with 341 and 343 present, respectively, maintained their modality of the small working groups’ interventions, followed by the free interventions.

This was explained by Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication and the President of the Commission for Information, in the briefing with journalists, which began at 2:20 pm in the Holy See Press Office and was introduced by Vice Director of the Holy See Press Office, Ms. Cristiane Murray.

Referring to yesterday afternoon’s and today’s speeches on the Module B-3 of the Instrumentum laboris, the title of which is “Participation, responsibility and authority,” Dr. Ruffini explained that the commitment to “avoid authoritarianism” had been reaffirmed and that “authority is not domination but service.”

Referring in particular to one of the most significant expressions used in the Hall, the Prefect said is precisely that authority is “exercised barefoot.” The person who “has authority,” it was also said, “must not control everything but have the ability to delegate”; and the Bishop, it was said, “has the last word but not the only word.”

Among the topics discussed were “the role of pastors in the service of the poor,” also in the style of the prayer presided over last night by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square for migrants and refugees. Interventions highlighted that attention must be paid “to the cry of those who suffer in the streets.” In addition, Synod participants recognized “the bishops must call for conversion of heart so that feelings of humanity are rekindled in those who, by trafficking in arms, contribute to the ‘third world war’ that causes suffering for millions of people.”

Dr. Ruffini noted that “corresponsibility” is one of the words that recurs most frequently in the speeches, and is understood “as the involvement and coordination of charisms.” In this regard, the importance of valorising figures, competences, and in particular, the commitment of the laity, was emphasised.

The Prefect clarified the counting of the number of participants in the Synod: there are 365 with the Pope. Recalling the different ways of participation, Dr. Ruffini pointed out that, in all, another hundred or so people are involved, and this brings the number to 464. But, he explained, their presence is obviously not counted in the official communications. In addition, he made it known that the General Secretariat is giving precedence in taking the floor to those who have not taken part in the work so far.

Sheila Pires, Secretary of the Commission for Information, continued in the briefing by reporting that there were those who warned against clericalism, even among the laity, because it “has led to abuses of power, conscience, economic and sexual.” And abuses, Ms. Pires insisted, have made the Church “lose credibility,” so much so that a “control mechanism” is necessary.

Synodality, Ms. Pires reported, “can help prevent abuses because it is a process that has to do with listening and dialogue.”

With regard to reforms, there was talk of changes needed to achieve greater transparency in financial and economic structures; the revision of canon law and also some “titles” that have become anachronistic. Returning to synodality, the urgency of reinforcing already existing structures, such as pastoral councils, was noted, taking care not to give in to parliamentarist drifts.

Finally, Ms. Pires reported that the issue of being present alongside young people in the digital environment, a true place of mission to bring those on the far peripheries closer. In reality, he concluded, it is a matter of meeting these young people where they already are, namely in the various social networks.

Archbishop Grušas: Formation and conversion

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, Archbishop of Vilnius, President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference, recalled the continental meeting held in February in Prague.

In the American-born Archbishop’s view, it was an “extremely positive occasion for conversation and spiritual sharing,” thanks to which pastors from 45 different countries who were able to talk and compare notes together from different perspectives. 

Referring then to the Synod work, Archbishop Grušas stressed the centrality of the theme of formation as “a way of being Church, of living together, of experiencing communion.” The Synod experience itself concretely realises all this, he suggested.

“Despite the fatigue of these days,” he said, “we have great energy because, although we come from different countries, we realise that we have so much in common: first of all, faith.” Another important aspect highlighted by Archbishop Grušas is the conversion of the heart, the will to “grow as Church,” starting from the willingness to change mentality.

Sister Fadoul: Between suffering and hope

Then Sister Houda Fadoul, from Syria, who in 1993 joined the monastic community of the Syrian-Catholic rite Deir Mar Musa, founded by Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, took the floor. The nun, who participates in the work as a witness of the synodal process for the Eastern Churches and the Middle East, among those who come from the continental assemblies without being conferred the episcopal ‘munus,’ spoke of her personal and ecclesial experience, marked by dramatic events such as the war, the pandemic, the earthquake.

Her diocese, moreover, has been without a Bishop for three years, and the new pastor, who has just arrived, has tried to “catch up” by involving young people in particular and also inviting a Lebanese expert Bishop to meet with the various components of the community.

As for the Synod, the nun spoke of “a very rich moment of exchange” that nourishes the tension towards unity and sharing offered in prayer. Each theme, after all, is addressed in the style of “walking together:” there is a starting point, a path, a goal to be achieved.

Archbishop of Tokyo: with the gaze of Caritas

Next to speak was Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, a Verbite missionary, Archbishop of Tokyo, President of Caritas internationalis, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, and Secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. He underlined how difficult it is for the Japanese to speak in a group, since they prefer, by their own style, silence. 

That is why, he noted, “the debate we are having in these days is very important. In the continental assemblies we had already begun to use the mode of smaller groups, around a table, with meetings organised in Asia that prepared us better for the Synod. By participating in five smaller groups,” the Archbishop reiterated, “I had the opportunity to fully experience diversity in the unity of the Church, not forgetting that its existence is universal.”

The Archbishop of Tokyo pointed out that in Asia there are so many languages and so many realities, suggesting there is not just one way to walk with all the people, and that synodality does not mean uniformity, but requires respecting individuals and cultures appropriately.

Archbishop Kikuchi then spoke about his service as President of Caritas Internationalis, pointing out that “each Caritas is fundamental in the Church’s synodal journey. All organisations,” he pointed out, “have their own Catholic identity, actively collaborate with various partners and also have an ecumenical and interreligious value. Synodality can be seen in the different nationalities of those who lead this organisation and those who work locally, in all parts of the world.”

Sr. Barron: natural African synodality

Sister Mary Teresa Barron from Ireland, Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles and President of the International Union of Superiors General, introduced her speech by mentioning the motto in English: “No two people read the same book.” 

“Reflecting on the Synod,” she confided, “has led me to see and live things on the basis of my experience as a nun, matured in East Africa in a rural parish, where I lived the first experience of a synodal Church, in a ‘young’ Church with two priests for 35 villages and one catechist for a territory as big as half of Ireland.”

The synodality experienced in the small working groups, the religious sister continued, is similar to that experienced when in Africa “in community, with the lay faithful, every Sunday outside the mud huts, we would sit in a circle to make decisions all together,” even with people who ‘had no education and we shared the faith from the bottom of our hearts. But every voice had the same weight.”

Sister Barron went on to propose “more listening to the “younger’ churches where there is strong participation from below” and also confirmed how religious life within her own congregation is based on synodality.

Everyone has their role in the Church

Responding to the journalists’ questions, Sr. Fadoul referred to the contribution of the witness of common life with regard to synodality. She particularly recalled that she had not abandoned the Syrian Christians with her community, helping them with prayer, making them feel solidarity. She was echoed by Sister Barron, who pointed out the involvement of the superiors general in the Synod process. On the other hand, she added, consecrated life recognises the importance of formation to understand how to live synodality. Sister Barron referred to the “ripple effect” in online formation, which is useful for broadening sharing and community building.

To a follow-up question, regarding the female diaconate, Sister Barron noted that the issue is on the table for synodal discernment. It is characteristic of the beauty of the Catholic Church that there are different opinions, but while they are being discussed, she added, it would not be right to speak out of this space. In this regard, Sr. Fadoul emphasised that everyone must assume their role in the Church, both men and women, learning to use the gifts of the Lord. Archbishop Grušas added that the debate on the various ministries in the Church is part of this very broad exchange at the Synod. Usually, he noted, one seeks an answer like yes or no, black or white. It is clear that there are differences of opinion that also depend on cultural background, so it is too early to make a decision at this stage.

Again in response to a question, Archbishop Grušas said that the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences had reflected on a number of structures that are already synodal in canon law and can be implemented effectively now. And the Archbishop of Tokyo said that during the pandemic there was not much opportunity to bring people together to walk in a synodal way, so the online mode was chosen. Then, he called for reflection that if you really want to engage the laity, you have to consider their activities, their families.

Responding to a question from a Filipino journalist on the proposal contained in the Asian continental document on hospitality and inclusiveness in the Church, the Archbishop of Tokyo repeated what was proposed in the smaller groups, namely the Eastern custom of “taking off one’s shoes to enter the house” as a sign of welcome and hospitality.

To a final question about the Assembly’s final decisions, Archbishop Grušas emphasised the Assembly’s unity “on the method of synodality.”

On specific topics “I do not believe that at this stage, or even before 2024, there will be final decisions. But if we grow and live in synodality they will come, as we do not seek dogmatic conclusions, there is no preconception about what this Synod should be. Although everyone would like decisions, the process is more important than the decisions.”

Finally, Sister Fadoul added that listening, sharing and discerning are the key words for the whole Church.